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Food for Thought

Posted on: December 14th, 2010 by

The cover of Arden Moore's The Cat Behavior Book.
Oh Behave!
Q & A With Pet Expert Arden Moore

Q. I’m about to adopt a pair of young cats from the local shelter. They are just a year or two old and are littermates. I don’t want my cats to get fat from overeating. Should I just keep a big bowl of kibble available to them all the time or feed them twice a day?

A. Welcome to the Great Feline Food Debate. There are pros and cons to both free feeding and scheduling specific mealtimes. Many cats, whether they live as solo cats or part of a multi-cat household, seem to fare well with free feeding. They eat what they need and stop before becoming obese. Unlike dogs, who tend to bolt down whatever food is put in front of them, cats are more comfortable nibbling 10 to 20 times a day.

In your situation, I would first check with the animal shelter officials as to how these sibling felines were fed. Ask if they ate twice a day or had food available all day long, and inquire whether there were any incidents of one cat bullying or nudging the other from food bowls.

Keep tabs on your new cats’ eating habits and weigh them regularly. If they seem to maintain their weight, then free feeding is a good option. Just be sure to clean the bowls regularly – daily if you feed canned food.

Some cats, however, view free feeding as a 24-hour all-you-can-eat buffet and stuff themselves with kibble until their bellies drag on the floor. They just can’t say no to chow. Consider this startling fact: an extra three pounds on a nine-pound cat is the equivalent of adding a whopping 40 pounds to a 120-pound person. Added weight puts both cats and people at added health risk.

For cases in which one cat eats too much and one eats too little, scheduling specific mealtimes is recommended. This allows you to have better control over your cats’ diets. To prevent the pudgy cat from gobbling up all the food, feed him in a separate room. Then, after a designated time, around 15 minutes or so, pick up the food bowls. Another option is to feed the slender cat an extra meal at night, while the plumper puss spends the night in a room of his own without any food.

Controlled feeding also works best when a medical problem arises, such as diabetes. Cats with this condition need to have their insulin and blood sugar levels monitored on a daily basis. Feeding small amounts a number of times each day can also help a cat who eats too much food at once and may throw up a short time later.

If you find yourself unable to be at home at specific mealtimes for your cats, consider buying a timed self-feeder. These gadgets dispense controlled portions of kibble at designated times. Putting a couple of golf balls in the food dish will also help to slow down a greedy gobbler, as will spreading out the kibble on a tray or shallow dish.

Confounded by your canine? Frustrated by your feline? Relax. Pet expert Arden Moore is here to deliver the real truth about cats, dogs…and you with her column appropriately called, “Oh Behave!”
Author and pet expert Arden Moore sits with her pets.
On a regular basis, Arden will unleash excerpts from her two award-winning books, The Dog Behavior Answer Book (named the top training and behavior book by the Dog Writers Association of America) and The Cat Behavior Answer Book (named the top training and behavior book by the Cat Writers Association). Learn more about Moore, who also hosts a weekly radio show called “Oh Behave!” on Pet Life Radio (www.petliferadio.com) by visiting her Four Legged Life website (www.fourleggedlife.com).

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